About Gary Lavergne








The Bad Boy From Rosebud, a serial killer named Kenneth Allen McDuff, was executed on November 17, 1998. McDuff’s notoriety results not just from the frightening nature of his crimes, but also from the journey that returned him to death row AFTER having been paroled from the first death sentence he received for murders he committed in 1966. McDuff is the only convicted killer in American history to have been assigned two different death row numbers and sentenced to two different forms of execution by three different juries. McDuff’s parole in 1989 made it possible for him to murder again, which in turn resulted in one of the largest prison construction projects in the history of the free world.

The Bad Boy From Rosebud delves into:

  • McDuff's childhood;
  • The unbelievable sub-culture of drugs, prostitution and violence in which he flourished;
  • The horrifying crimes he committed;
  • The extraordinary cooperation of at least one dozen law enforcement agencies engaged in a nationwide manhunt to arrest him;
  • His unwitting fashioning of an "impossible" political coalition to restructure the criminal justice system
  • The dramatic search for and recovery of missing victims
  • A minute-by-minute account of his execution on November 17, 1998

The Bad Boy From Rosebud:
The Murderous Life of Kenneth Allen McDuff

"This is classic crime reporting."
Dan Rather, Anchor, the CBS Evening News



"He was the Bad Boy from Rosebud – always has been."
Ellen Roberts, Former Justice of the Peace, Falls County

Bad Boy from Rosebud coverThe rolling hills of central Texas cradle a hamlet called Rosebud. It lies in the Blackland Prairie. With the luck of ample rain, the dark, rich soil supports a diversity of crops. But the land can be unforgiving as well. During periods of drought the waves of brown grain, chest-high dead cornstalks, or emaciated cotton plants prove that nature rules and serve as witnesses to the death that can overshadow the otherwise lush and living countryside.

The inhabitants of the Blackland Prairie are as diverse as their homes. Sprawling ranch-style houses exist alongside crumbling trailers — some with elaborate steps, porches, and roofs that probably cost as much as the trailers. In some cases, almost within arm’s length, expensive satellite dishes bring the world, good and bad, to televisions in small living rooms with rotted particle board floors.

Once, the hamlets of the Blackland Prairie catered to small family-owned farms. Today, the hamlets evidence the merger of those farms into fewer, larger, self-sufficient agricultural giants. Numerous old, dried-out, useless barns and sheds lean dangerously, ghosts of a simpler and perhaps better time.

When those barns and sheds stood erect during the post-World War II agricultural boom, Rosebud’s Main Street bustled with business activity. When entering Rosebud a sign greeted visitors: "Rosebud – We call it home." It betrays a simple lifestyle. According to a local brochure, visitors on their way into town drove by stately "homes that made Rosebud beautiful." The Tarver Home, the Nicholson Home on South First Street, the palatial "Rosebud Castle," the Reichert House on Second Street and several others nestled in quiet neighborhoods among mature, magnificent trees. Rosebud was "a town of good people working together for the betterment of their community" extolled the Chamber of Commerce. In an effort to encourage residents to plant a rose bush in every yard, the Rosebud News, and later the Chamber of Commerce, gave away cuttings to anyone who did not have a bush. "The City of Rosebud has a lot to be proud of, but Rosebud is not remembered instantly for its excellent hospital, rest home, businesses, library, schools and friendly people. The name and the reputation for having a rose bush in every yard is its main claim to fame." On the other hand, lore said there was also a saloon on every street, and as a result, women never went into town on Saturdays. On Sundays everyone went to church and some worshipers, like those attending services at the Rosebud Church of Christ, were greeted by signs offering homespun wisdom: "Don’t pray for rain if you plan on complaining about the mud."

Rosebud, now a bedroom community populated by workers commuting to Temple, Marlin, and Waco, is one of the few remaining places where markets close on Saturdays. Empty, dusty store fronts line Main Street.

The first indication to travelers that they are near Rosebud is a huge gleaming water storage tank, large enough to meet the needs of a far larger city. The water system and tank, with "Rosebud" painted on the north side above a huge stemmed red rose, and the accompanying sewer system are a result of the tenacity of Ms. Wanda Fischer, who lives in the Reichert House, one of the homes that made Rosebud beautiful. After serving on the City Council and then as City Manager for ten years, Ms. Fischer retired from public service in May 1996. She has lived in Rosebud most of her life.

One of Ms. Fischer’s friends said that "every little town needs a benevolent despot." And Rosebud had Ms. Fischer. Residents were known to knock on her doors or windows at all hours of the night with their problems ranging from serious city-related issues to family arguments only Ms. Fischer could mediate. She is a graceful and dignified woman who remembers an earlier Rosebud. She watched sadly as some of the "homes that made Rosebud beautiful" were torn down and the Blackland Prairie farms grew larger and fewer while Main Street grew quieter – and more storefronts covered polished glass with knotted plywood.

Ms. Fischer is the symbol of a nice little town populated by decent people. But her eyes narrow at the mention of Rosebud’s most infamous son: Kenneth Allen McDuff. "He was just a vicious killer," she said venomously.

To many Rosebud old timers, the name Kenneth Allen McDuff brings to mind a rowdy, downright mean, bully on a loud motorcycle. He liked to fight and he liked to scare the small and the weak. Sometimes he hurt people, but the only time he ever fought someone with a reasonable chance of fighting back he got kicked around a ravine traversed by a bridge where school children crowded in order to relish the long-overdue administration of "justice for McDuff." But the name McDuff conjures up more than just a school yard fight between two ninth graders. People remember the horror of the 1966 "Broomstick Murders" of three teenagers for which McDuff was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by electrocution.

"Only a few people from Rosebud ever went to prison, and one of them was for stealing two turkeys," lamented the former editor of the Rosebud News.

"He was the bad boy of Rosebud – always has been," confessed Ms. Ellen Roberts, a former Justice of the Peace and one of Kenneth’s teachers. She remembers him coming from a hard-working family headed by a stern mother and a father who worked so much that it seemed as if that was all he did. Other neighbors said that the McDuffs were hard to figure. They were not overly loud and obnoxious – but they were not warm people either.

In October of 1989, in a twist of history that many in Rosebud, indeed, in all of Texas and throughout the nation, still cannot believe, the State of Texas set Kenneth Allen McDuff, the Broomstick Murderer, free. It was not just some incredible ruling by an activist bleeding-heart judge. No trial error dismissed his case. No suspicious California or New York conspiracy set him free. He was paroled – by Texans!

All of a sudden the fear returned. "A lot of people around here are scared, and they have a right to be," said Texas State Trooper Richard Starnes. Rumors ravaged an already tremulous little town. In nearby McLennan County, Detective Richard Stroup reported that his office had been getting calls from housewives afraid to leave their kids by themselves during broad daylight. Schools took precautions, and bus drivers were warned by school administrators to be alert for the Bad Boy from Rosebud. The very sad irony was that, 30 years after he had dropped out of school, Kenneth McDuff was still scaring school children and giving principals trouble. Rosebud, and the world, would soon discover that he had never grown up; he had only gotten frightfully larger and much more dangerous.

Kenneth Allen McDuff became the architect of an extraordinarily intolerant atmosphere in Texas. He brought about the restructuring of the third largest criminal justice system in the United States. The first sentence of Ken Anderson’s excellent book, Crime in Texas: Your Complete Guide to the Criminal Justice System, consists of two words: "Kenneth McDuff" followed by "More than any other person, McDuff has come to represent everything that was wrong with the Texas criminal justice system. He convinced everyone – citizens, politicians, the news media – just how broken the Texas system was."

Indeed, McDuff managed to forge a coalition, that could never have been formed under a normal political discourse, to do one thing – build prisons. In the May 1996 issue of Texas Monthly Robert Draper described "the biggest prison system ever concocted by any free society in history." Draper's article, which does not mention McDuff, clearly shows that the great Texas buildup had its roots even before the McDuff story hit the stands. Federal lawsuits involving prison overcrowding and media coverage of gang violence put Texas on the path of a building binge. From 1990 to 1995 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s budget more than tripled (from $700 million to $2.2 billion). By 1996 the prison system had more than 146,000 beds. In a two year period (1994-1996) the number of units (prisons) went from 65 to 102, and the number of inmates grew from 72,000 to 129,000. But the bulk of the funding, a huge new TDCJ budget and a billion dollar bond issue passed in 1993, which made possible such a penal explosion, resulted in part from emotion-ridden "debates" ladened with references to Kenneth McDuff. At the very least, Kenneth McDuff validated an urge for a prison buildup. Depending on the measure, today only Russia and China (and possibly California) have larger prison systems than Texas.

The spasm of prison construction and parole reforms collectively called the "McDuff Rules," resulted from an enormous display of anger vented towards a system that had broken down. "This guy beat the system," said Austin Police Department Detective Sonya Urubek. "If I have to spend every day at the Capitol, if I have to scream, [I’ll do] whatever I have to do," promised Lori Bible, the sister of one of McDuff’s victims. They were typical comments in a flood of outrage. It turns out that from 1965 to 1992, McDuff had been arrested for burglary, sent to prison, paroled, arrested for three brutal murders while on parole, sent back to prison and placed on death row, taken off of death row, convicted of a felony while in prison, paroled, arrested for making terroristic threats while on parole, sent back to prison, paroled again, arrested for driving while intoxicated while on parole, put in jail, released from jail, placed on probation, arrested for public intoxication while on parole and probation, arrested for murder while on parole and probation again, and finally, put back on death row. Texans will no longer take chances.

The case of Karla Faye Tucker removed all doubt about Texas’ commitment to capital punishment. She was a born-again Christian who few doubted had truly rehabilitated herself, but was executed by lethal injection in February 1998. Texas state officials received thousands of appeals for clemency, including those from the Pope, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Amnesty International, and the United Nations. Significantly, even after such an outpouring of support, she would not receive a single favorable vote from the 18-member Board of Pardons and Paroles. Governor George W. Bush, hardly a rabid advocate of capital punishment, refused to intervene. Tucker’s execution re-ignited the debate for a few days, but it did virtually nothing to move Texas away from its historic commitment or its new-found allegiance to the death penalty. Some even took perverse comfort in knowing justice is indeed "blind" in Texas. A capital murderer will be executed, even if she is a good-looking, white, Christian woman. David Botsford, Tucker’s lawyer, would lament after her execution that "Texas has no mercy." When it comes to capital murder, he is absolutely right — the result of the long-term effect of historical support for capital punishment by Texans compounded by the short term effect of Kenneth Allen McDuff. For many, McDuff removed the doubts and discomforts good and thoughtful people have of supporting the death penalty, even in a case like that of Karla Faye Tucker. Indeed, he has become the poster boy of capital punishment.

Why is he the poster boy? How did he gain such notoriety? Because in his case, the advocates of the death penalty are right: Had Kenneth McDuff been executed after the Broomstick Murders of 1966, the young women he murdered from 1989 to 1992 would be alive today. McDuff tragically illustrated that even a death sentence is not a certainty. As long as pardons and clemency exist, and as long as there is a possibility that one day the Supreme Court can rule that capital punishment, whether de facto or in its application, is cruel and unusual, there is no such thing as a guaranteed execution much less a true "life without parole" sentence.

McDuff managed to outrage more than just the kooks who party in Huntsville during executions. The massive Texas prison buildup came about during the administration of liberal Democratic Governor Ann Richards, who readily admitted that she would much rather have spent such a vast sum of money on other things. Her career championing liberal causes took a back seat to what "had to be done." Conservative Republicans did an about face as well; at a time when their doctrine was to reduce spending and the size of government, they encouraged and supported one of the largest expansions of state government in the history of the United States, as well as its necessary revenue enhancements. Only Kenneth McDuff could inspire ultra conservatives to see big government as a solution. It had to be done – such was the effect of the Bad Boy from Rosebud.

Investigators in dozens of law enforcement jurisdictions, hardened by years of dealing with brutality of all types and the evil they see, were be aghast at what they learned about McDuff. A descendant of a legendary law enforcement family, United States Marshal Mike Earp, said that McDuff was "basically an animal who had to be taken off the streets."

"A sadistic bastard is what he is," said McLennan County Deputy Richard Stroup, as he straightened his stance and gritted his teeth.

Fred Labowitz, a renowned Dallas psychologist, summed up the mystery and the frustration, and our unsettling helplessness: "This guy goes beyond the study of human behavior." No matter how much we contemplate the Ted Bundys and Charles Mansons of the world, "none of this can prepare us for an encounter with Kenneth McDuff."

Other mass murderers have caught our attention. Charles Manson exposed a fascination we have with the bizarre, but he had virtually no effect on our behavior or our laws. Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Henry Lee Lucas, and Jeffery Dahmer horrified us with what they did. But in those cases we were caught by surprise — we could not have predicted that they would do what they did.

Kenneth McDuff set himself apart from the others. What he did from 1989 to 1992 was utterly predictable because he had done it before. That he was paroled to kill and paroled to kill again galled every civilian public official who knew of him. Some of his own family members could not believe he had been set free. How on Earth could this happen? Who did this? After finding out that Kenneth had been freed through a perfectly legal process, Charlie Butts, a former Assistant District Attorney from Tarrant County, and a truly refined country gentleman, bristled at the suggestion that anyone could possibly consider McDuff rehabilitated. "I don’t give a damn what he did in prison; he is a killer and he will always be a killer."

On a personal level, Kenneth McDuff brought out atypical behavior in people. J.W. Thompson of the Austin Police Department, a person of faith and a kind and gentle father of two young daughters, and an easy-going and unassuming homicide detective, gets angered when reminded of assertions once made by McDuff’s former lawyer and former Parole Board members who claimed to genuinely believe that the convicted murderer could have contributed to society. "Well, he did!" J.W. said uncharacteristically in a voice dripping with anger and sarcasm. "He gave me a lot of damn overtime I did not want!"

Noted defense attorney F. Lee Bailey is probably right when he asserts that we are often caught off-guard at the discovery of mass murderers because we have not done what he calls "our homework." The frustration of not knowing what to do caused Bailey to ask rhetorically: "What should be done about such creatures?" Truman Capote, the author of In Cold Blood, suggested that we cannot begin to understand mass murderers and thus cannot pretend to treat them.

Others, like Charlie Butts, seasoned by more than four decades prosecuting and defending the accused, say that people like McDuff have "no conscience and it doesn’t make him crazy; it just makes him mean." Another prosecutor of Kenneth McDuff, Crawford Long of the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office, stated simply, "He was not driven to this; he chose it."

Truman Capote may be right. Maybe we cannot treat mass murderers because we cannot understand them. But then, maybe there is nothing to treat. Maybe some people, like McDuff, are mean because they want to be and kill because they like it. In the case of Kenneth Allen McDuff, a serious search for an answer begins with his first victim – Rosebud.

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